Gabriel Johnson was born in Santa Clara, California in 1980 and grew up in Salinas, California. Early on, his greatest musical influence was his grandmother who always preached to him the importance of the arts and, most importantly, jazz. “She was the one who told me I really needed to go hear Dizzy play in 1989 at the Monterey Jazz Festival. It was there that I heard not only Dizzy but another of the all time greats, Freddie Hubbard. That was about all it took for me to say, ‘this is what I want to do.’” After practicing obsessively throughout middle and high school, Gabriel attended Boston’s prestigious New England Conservatory of Music. While there he studied under the tutelage of jazz greats Steve Lacy, Danilo Perez, George Garzone, John McNeil and Bob Moses.
After completing his education in Boston, he decided to return to his California roots, only this time to Los Angeles where he has lived for the past 8 years. Since arriving in LA, Gabriel has been very active in the studio scene, and has played or recorded with a wide variety of musicians and bands, including Blood Sweat and Tears, Gladys Knight, David Foster, Jill Scott, Diddy, Skylar Grey, Faith Evans, Gerald Albright, Dave Koz, Johnny Mathis, Kyle Eastwood, Vince Gill, Andrea Bocelli,Chris Botti, Mindi Abair, Paula Cole, Lyle Lovett, Keb Mo, M83, B.o.B, Huun Huur Tu and Burt Bacharach.
A turning point came in 2007, when Clint Eastwood called upon Gabriel to be the featured soloist with orchestra on his Golden Globes nominated score to Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie. Eastwood, once a trumpet player himself, said that Johnson “plays like a singer.” This was a bit of a full circle moment for Johnson, since as a child he grew up not too far from Clint’s home in Carmel, California. He says, “I had heard about his love of music while I was growing up, so to be standing there playing the trumpet, his favorite instrument, on a movie he directed, with him sitting 5 feet from me in the room was exciting and humbling at the same time.” Following the success of the Changeling soundtrack, Eastwood once again called upon Johnson to be the soloist in his Nelson Mandela biopic Invictus, which came out in December of 2009.